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With Six-Month Olympic Countdown Looming, HRIC Calls on China to Release Chen Guangcheng

February 1, 2008

Human Rights in China calls on the Chinese government to implement its promise to respect human rights during the Olympic Games by releasing barefoot Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng. “An independent bar, which is fundamental to the rule of law, must mean that lawyers can do their work without fear of reprisals, or worse,” said Human Rights in China Executive Director Sharon Hom. “By releasing Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese government can demonstrate respect for and compliance with international human rights standards and decisions, including decisions of independent international bodies like the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which determined Chen’s detention is arbitrary.”

HRIC’s Incorporating Responsibility 2008 Olympics Take Action Campaign highlights individuals in detention and systemic human rights challenges. Each month, the Take Action Campaign focuses on a selected case—in February, the case of Chen Guangcheng—and identifies human rights actions that the Chinese government and the international community can take. In February, the campaign also includes resources and links advocating for the rights of Chinese lawyers.

Chen Guangcheng (b.1971), a blind, barefoot lawyer and activist, organized group cases in June 2005 against the Linyi City government in Shandong Province over the practice of forced sterilization and late-term abortions. Prior to his criminal detention on June 10, 2006, he had been repeatedly assaulted detained by the police as a result of his activism. On August 19, 2006, Chen was sentenced to four years and three months’ imprisonment for “intentional damage of property” and “organizing people to block traffic.” His trial was marked with irregularities, including the harassment of witnesses and the detention of his lawyers, who were effectively prevented from attending the trial. Chen is currently held at Linyi City Prison and is due for release in September 2010.

In 2001, Liu Jingmin, a Beijing Olympic official, stated that the “Games are an opportunity to foster democracy, improve human rights and integrate China with the rest of the world.” Six months before the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games, Human Rights in China urges the Chinese authorities to take action and send a strong message that they respect the rule of law and the rights of lawyers and other rights defenders. “They can begin by immediately releasing individuals, including Chen Guangcheng, who are arbitrarily detained in violation of international human rights standards,” said Hom.

Background on Chen Guangcheng:

Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), born in 1971 and blind since childhood, is a self-taught lawyer and activist in Shandong Province who has fought for multiple rural causes. In 1998, Chen fought against an illegal form of economic exploitation, called the “two-fields system,” used by local officials in his village to tax farmers on land that should have been provided tax-free. Chen also provided legal advice to disabled people about how to protect their rights, including suing the Beijing metro system. In his most famous case, he filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Linyi over an official policy of forced abortions and sterilizations.

In September 2005, a few days after he met with lawyers and journalists in Beijing, Chen was abducted by Shandong authorities and returned to Linyi, where he was placed under house arrest. Despite acknowledgements in official media the same month that family planning abuses in Linyi had taken place and were being investigated, Chen was beaten by local officials when he attempted to meet with visiting lawyers in October 2005. Local authorities told the lawyers, who were also attacked by unidentified assailants, that Chen’s case now involved state secrets.

Chen was taken away by authorities in March 2006, and for three months his status and whereabouts were not disclosed and his lawyers had no access to him. In June, Chen was criminally detained and charged with “intentional damage of property and organizing people to block traffic,” and was sentenced to four years and three months’ imprisonment in August 2006. Chen lodged an appeal of the conviction. On October 31, 2006, the court overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial by the county court in Yinan in Shandong Province. On November 29, 2006, the court of the first instance upheld the original verdict. Another appeal was rejected on January 9, 2007, and reports continue to surface of harassment of Chen’s lawyers.

For additional information about Chen Guangcheng, see:

End Illegal Detention:

In addition to Chen Guangcheng, four other individuals featured in our IR2008 campaign have been determined by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to have been placed in detention arbitrarily. This international independent body has declared that Chen Guangcheng, Shi Tao, Yao Fuxin, Hu Shigen, and Li Chang are in detention arbitrarily, yet all remain in prison. HRIC calls on the Chinese government to release these five individuals and all others declared to be in detention arbitrarily.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is a “Special Procedure” of the Human Rights Council, the main human rights body at the UN. It investigates cases of arbitrary deprivation of liberty around the world, and acts on information submitted by governments, international bodies, NGOs, and individuals. In its China cases, the Working Group has examined issues related to the lack of an independent judiciary and imprisonment on the basis of exercising freedom of expression. The Working Group has visited China twice (in 1997 and 2004), where it met with government officials, lawyers, judges, prison officials, and prisoners. Although it has made many recommendations, few have been implemented.

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